Bea Johnson lives waste-free with her family since 2008 and is the author of the bestseller Zero Waste Home (Zéro Déchet en francais)
"Since embarking on the Zero Waste lifestyle, our lives have changed for the better: We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff. My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits!"

Seasonal Recipe: Pickled Herring

Ever since I lived in Amsterdam, pickled herring has been one of my favorite appetizers. Today, I wish I could simply fill a jar of it from my grocery store's salad bar (the way I purchase similar items). But one of my mottoes is: If you can't find it in bulk, make it!

Herring is tough to find at the fish counter though. I learned that here, in the San Francisco bay area, the local fishermen use it for bait to catch the big (generally less sustainable) fish per consumer demand, and the herring boats send most of it to Japan for its roe. So when Kirk Lombard, a local sea forager/educator, invited Scott and Léo (see video below) to go fishing for them last Monday, my dream came true... 8 pounds of cleaned fillets later, we had a few jars of pickled herring.


If you, too, enjoy pickled herring and can put your hand on the fresh fish, here is how to pickle it. Note: This recipe will work for pickling other types of seafood. It is an adaptation of Kirk's recipe and I used it for eight pounds of fillets, so adapt it to your needs.

Cover the fillets in a brine of 1 part salt to 20 parts water (1 cup salt for 20 cups of water for 8 lbs. of herring fillets) and let sit in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, rinse.

Slice 3 red onions

In a jar (I used a couple of 2 liter jars), alternate layers of herring and onion

In a large pot, over medium heat, combine 4 cups water, 5 cups white vinegar, 1 cup sugar, 4 tsp allspice, 4 bay leaves (or 1 California Bay leaf), 2 tsp grated ginger, 1 tsp mustard (ground or seed), 2 tsp horseradish, 1 tsp peppercorns, a pinch of ground cloves. Once the sugar is dissolved, let cool and top the jars.

Refrigerate for a couple of days before eating. 
Serve on a slice of buttered baguette. 

How Zero waste are my ingredients?

Herring: Foraged by Scott and Léo using a net and brought home in an open bin. During the cleaning process, we also removed milt (male roe) and eggs (female roe) and prepare them separately as appetizers.
White Vinegar: Purchased the brand packaged in a glass bottle, as I have not yet been able to find it sold in bulk.
Sugar, mustard (ground), peppercorns: Purchased in bulk, using cloth bags.
Allspice, ground cloves: Purchased in bulk, filling my spice jar directly (I use little and do not want to over estimate how much I need)
Bay leaves: Foraged from the neighbors branch that falls onto our property. California Bay leaves being four times as potent as the culinary kind, we use a quarter of what the recipe calls for.
Onions and ginger: Purchased loose from the produce aisle.
Horseradish: Homemade using a root sold loose in the produce aisle (recipe will be in the book.)

Oh and my two-liter jars were purchased from the local thrift store;)

How does pickled herring sound to you?


  1. I've never had pickled herring but I do pot my own fish such as rainbow trout in spiced clarified butter. I think I might just give this a try!

  2. J'adore ça ! Souvenir aussi des séjours en Scandinavie... N'ayant pas de pêcheurs à portée de main, j'en achète à chaque visite chez IKEA... Avec une petite salade et des pommes de terre à l'eau, et si possible du pain noir (difficile à trouver), c'est un délice.

    1. Just curious what do you buy when you visit IKEA, my translator may not have done a good job and I'm unclear.

    2. Sorry! Every time I go to IKEA I buy pickled herring (several tastes available: mustard, onion, etc.). It's delicious served with potatoes and a simple salad. (Do IKEA stores sell food in US too ?)

  3. Does it taste similar to sardines? I like sardines, but have not had them pickled. I LIke some things pickled (cabbage/sauerkraut/beets) and some things are too strong.

  4. Anonymous1/28/2013

    Pickled herring. I've tried it. Um.... well.... I'll pass on this suggestion...but looking forward to others.

  5. I wish I was your neighbor and could go food shopping with you! Love pickled herring, and also the ones in a sour cream sauce.

  6. Anonymous1/28/2013

    This looks fantastic! Quick question - will it work without the sugar? We are trying to cut sugar from our diet. Thanks for your answer!

  7. Anonymous1/28/2013

    life is too short to abstain from sugar

    1. Anonymous2/03/2013

      and life is even shorter for those who dont abstain from sugar in all its guises when they should!!

  8. my mum pickles tilapia the same way. utterly not zwh, but homemade ;)

  9. Anonymous1/28/2013

    In Toronto pickled fish, herring included, is something I see sold in bulk in food shops located in communities that have a population of eastern/northern european immigrants. For example, it's sold in Polish butcher shops, Russian grocery stores etc., usually alongside open buckets of pickled cucumbers and green tomatoes...just a suggestion for where to look when you are travelling outside of your regular shopping route.

  10. I live in Sweden and we eat pickled herring at eastern, at mid summer (holiday in Sweden), at christmas and whenever we like ;) You can buy it in many different ways and you can eat it on bread, with potatoes or just as it is :) Here it is sold cold, in small jars of 200-500 gram. My own favourites are mustard, dill or onionherring. Love it :) And by the way, in reply to Katie, I don't think you shall do it without sugar. Sugar is needed for the taste.

  11. Anonymous1/28/2013

    I think you might enjoy the television show "escape to river cottage." It is on YouTube and Amazon streaming. The author, a chef, does a lot of growing his own food, foraging, and trading his labor for food at local farms. It is very entertaining! As he's trying not to buy as much as possible from stores, it winds up being similar to zero waste.

  12. Anonymous1/28/2013

    Hi Bea! I noticed you mentioned your 2l jars are from the thrift store. I am curious if you only purchase thrifted Le Parfait jars or if you sometimes buy other brands.

  13. I would love to hear how one goes about zero waste fishing... and more posts about how to forage for food. Thank you for the inspiration!

  14. Anonymous2/02/2013

    J'ai faim! Yummy! Avec un shot de vodka... Nasdarovié!

  15. Have you thought of making your own vinegar out of apple scraps?

    1. I do and will soon share how. But for this, you still need white vinegar.